It's hardly a leap of faith to make Brother Derek the early favorite for this year's Run for the Roses after his impressive win in the $200,000 Santa Catalina (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita Saturday.
The California-bred son of Benchmark remained undefeated at two turns when he beat the closing Sacred Light by 1 3/4 lengths for his third straight graded stakes victory, completing the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:41 4/5.
Dan Hendricks trains Brother Derek for owner Cecil N. Peacock.
"I'd say I had him cranked about 90 percent and that's why he was a little fresh, but that's what we wanted to do and it worked out perfect," Hendricks said.
The conditioner confirmed Brother Derek would make his next start in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles on April 8. After the nearly effortless way he has handled everything the California sophomore crop has thrown at him so far this year, he should be a prohibitive favorite.
Racing on the outside while pressing the leaders around both turns, Brother Derek responded powerfully when asked for his run by jockey Alex Solis at the top of the lane. He left his main rival, Latent Heat, well behind in the stretch run and won under moderate urging. Sacred Light, with Aaron Gryder aboard, swept past the tiring Latent Heat and Patrick Valenzuela by 2 3/4 lengths for third.
"What a pro he is," Solis said. "He broke real sharp and placed himself. Right before the turn, I just wanted to let the other horse (Latent Heat) go. All that worked out well.
"He was a little excited before the race. Anyway, when he got the backside, he settled fine. He really won it very easy. I wasn't using him that much. We wanted to make sure we didn't do him in before the Kentucky Derby, if we get to that point."
Mister Triester finished fourth in the field of eight, followed by Hawkinsville, Blazing Sunset, Niagara Causeway, and Objective. Wanna Runner scratched.
Brother Derek's win comes on the heels of victories in the one-mile San Rafael (gr. II) Jan. 14 and the 1 1/16-mile Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) on Dec. 17. The fourth-place finisher in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) has now won five of seven career starts with earnings of $712,080.
Breaking from post 7, Brother Derek was prominent early while racing three wide as the Bobby Frankel-trained Latent Heat and Mister Triester fought for the lead through fractions of :23 1/5, :46 1/5 and 1:10 1/5. As they rounded the turn, Brother Derek put his nose in front and continued to duel with Latent Heat as Mister Triester faded. But when Solis called upon Brother Derek, it was all over. Sacred Light finished well for trainer David Hofmans but did not threaten the winner.
"We were able to save a little ground around the turn," said Gryder of the runner-up. "The way he switched leads turning for home, he was really reaching out. He made up a lot of ground, and I was very happy with his effort. He seems to have improved with each start, and this was his biggest step forward, but it was at the right time of year."
"It was very encouraging," said trainer David Hofmans. "He's learning; and the further we go, the better we're going to get."
Brother Derek, the 1-2 choice paid $3, $2.80, and $2.10, topping a 26.20 exacta with 19-1 shot Sacred Light ($6.80, $2.10), who ran third in the 1 1/8-mile Sham (gr. III) Feb. 4. Latent Heat, the 3-1 second choice, was an impressive maiden winner last out at seven furlongs Jan. 21, but had the worst of it while racing between horses most of the way before tiring.
Mary Caldwell bred Brother Derek, a $275,000 Barretts 2-year-old sale last March. He is out of the Siyah Kalem mare Miss Soft Sell.